About Coming to Understanding and its Author
Marc Sanders (1939-2011) was a philanthropist, businessman and writer who spent the last half years of his life working to promote systematic philosophy. In the late seventies, Sanders formed and funded The Institute for Natural Philosophy. Its aim was to encourage theoretical and epistemological inquiries in the natural and social sciences. In particular, The Institute sought to promote inquiries that because of their unusual scope or method could not be adequately supported within the confines of a single scientific discipline or via traditional funding sources. The Institute’s motivating concern was to mitigate the crippling specialism that marred the intellectual development of so many scientists, and to facilitate the integration of scientific results into a more inclusive philosophical framework. The interdisciplinary board of the Institute for Natural Philosophy consisted of well-known scientists and philosophers. Among its board members and supporters were B.F. Skinner, Stephen Jay Gould, Thomas Kuhn, Freeman Dyson, Jerome Lettvin, Dean Montgomery, Ashley Montagu and Jerry Fodor. Part of the inspiration behind The Institute for Natural Philosophy reappears in Sanders’ later work as an attack on scientism, the idea that the natural sciences can deliver a comprehensive ontology.
The Institute for Natural Philosophy was a precursor of The Ammonius Foundation, a non-profit foundation, created and funded by Sanders for the promotion of traditional metaphysics and philosophical theology. During the twelve year life of the Foundation, two prizes for young scholars (one in metaphysics, one in philosophical theology, both administered by editors from Oxford University Press) were founded and awarded annually. As well as these ongoing prizes, substantial research grants were made to over twenty philosophers.
Beginning in 2013, the prizes for young scholars will continue on under the auspices of a new philanthropic organization, the Marc Sanders Foundation, dedicated to identifying and rewarding excellent research in philosophy, with a special emphasis on metaphysics, philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaethics and philosophy of religion. The Director of the Sanders Foundation is Marc’s son, Eric Sanders.
Coming to Understanding
In 2000, Marc Sanders completed the first edition of Coming to Understanding. He playfully sought anonymity under the pseudonym "A.M. Monius." This name was chosen to bring to mind both Ammonius, the son of Hermeas known for his commentary on Aristotle's Categories, and Ammonius Saccus, the father of Neo-Platonism, who swore Plotinus and his other students to secrecy about his own teachings.
The 2000 edition of Coming to Understanding is focused on the fundamental questions of systematic metaphysics. It sets itself the ambitious task of explaining the large-scale structure and purpose of reality. The guiding axiom is that the key to these issues in speculative cosmology is to be found in analytic ontology—in particular, in the fully developed theory of what philosophers had previously called "the categories." By examining the fundamental types of being and their interrelations, an objective teleology, which lies at the heart of reality, can be laid bare. This effort at systematic metaphysics is in no way meant to be understood as being in competition with the discoveries of science.
Like the 2000 edition and a subsequent 2007 edition, the final 2010 edition begins with the claim that once we comprehend the structure of the categories and the fundamental relations among them, the nature and purpose of reality will be laid bare. However, categories are no longer treated as necessarily existing universals; rather they are contingent, non-spatio-temporal particulars. Still, much remains of the framework of the first edition—for example, the commitment to Monism and to the method described as "eduction." The thoroughgoing hylomorphism remains central, as well as the application of Aristotle's four causes to the eide, or fundamental categories. Furthermore, also remaining is the idea of an objective teleology at the heart of reality, a directedness of all things towards understanding.
In the years since 2000, the theological significance of these metaphysical notions moved to the fore in Sanders’ thinking. There are some obvious affinities to earlier positions, e.g. Neo-Platonism, Spinozism, Hegelianism, Consequentialism, and a strenuous Pietism. The new theological emphasis arises from an ontology of God as the One, the being that is ontologically prior to all else. Everything other than God is either an attribute of God or a part of one of these attributes. God's attributes are none other than the eide, and these attributes or eide stand in significant teleological relations to one another. From these teleological relations among the attributes of God, we can "educe" an objective teleology governing reality as a whole. We thereby find that the fundamental purpose of the universe, and of our lives within it, is understanding—specifically, understanding directed at God's attributes. As in the philosophy of Hegel, God's self-revelation is thus an objective goal or "telos" to which all things are oriented.
All five volumes of Coming to Understanding are available as free downloads or as paperbacks for purchase: